By Tim Schmitt>
Greater Niagara Newspapers
Remember when Sabres fans clamored for more grit, begging for a bigger, tougher lot that would be playoff-ready?
Great news — this team is indeed bigger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear this version will be able to get into the playoffs to show how tough it is.
Guys like Tim Kennedy and Clarke MacArthur were shuttled from the lineup while pieces like Rob Niedermayer and Shaone Morrison were added.
The result has been the worst start in franchise history.
Buffalo was big enough, but just got outworked by a Boston team that matched up well in last year’s first round.
In Niedermayer, the Sabres got a bill of goods. The last two nights have shown why the journeyman went to New Jersey’s camp prior to last season without a deal. He’s long past his prime and in his prime he was simply a grinder.
On Friday, with his team trailing in the third and in need of a spark, Niedermayer made a long cross-ice skate while the play went rushed behind him. On Saturday, he broke his stick with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first period and rushed back to the bench, needlessly leaving his teammates a man down for a second. The Leafs promptly scored.
In our eyes, Niedermayer isn’t giving the Sabres anything that Matt Ellis, who was called up from Portland on Saturday, can’t give.
And while we’re nitpicking veterans who’ve yet to produce, it’s interesting that fans have hounded Tim Connolly every time he’s touched the puck, yet nobody’s pointed out Jochen Hecht’s three points in 15 games. Hecht is notorious for bad-angle shots, and although he bounced back with a solid campaign last year, he sure looks like the guy who wallowed to a minus-9 during an abysmal 2008-09. Hecht isn’t getting good chances, or even keeping solid opportunities alive. Instead, Hecht prefers to skate wide, then flip the puck toward the net from the corner at least a handful of times a game. Granted, Hecht’s value has long been in his ability to chip in an occasional goal, yet help keep his own end secure, but the 12-year vet hasn’t even done that well this season. And at his lofty salary ($3.5 million), he should be able to shine in one end or the other.
And in Morrisonn, the Sabres saved a few bucks in a partner for Tyler Myers, but they sure haven’t gotten the same results. Obviously, Myers misses a smooth Henrik Tallinder on the backline and feels an urgency to do more with the puck rather than passing off to a plodding, heavy-handed Morrisonn. …
… While we’re on the Sabres, it was interesting to hear the sentiments of Niagara-Wheatfield graduate Darris Kilgour, who was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Hall of Fame on Thursday at the Buffalo Hyatt. The Bandits coach went out of his way to complement Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who coaches the other professional franchise that plays in HSBC Arena.
“To go in with Lindy Ruff is a huge honor. I’ve watched him play, and I’ve watched him coach,” Kilgour said. “And anyone who can be a coach for any pro team for as long as he has, obviously, he’s a very smart man.”
As we’ve said before, to fire Ruff simply to fire him doesn’t make much sense. The value of the longtime coach is simple — if the team fires him, he’s certain to be gobbled up quickly by the next team with an opening. But who will be willing to deal for the contracts of Hecht, Thomas Vanek or Tim Connolly?
… Going back to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, it was interesting to hear that honorees have been told not to give thanks during their speeches to shave time off the lengthy ceremony. Also, there’s now a clock that only the honorees can see.